‘To find the sense of life one has to read Dostoyevsky’, someone has said once, so I put myself to work. I have been on a mission to read as many classics as I can, and the Russians, especially Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, are mandatory when climbing the ladder in the pursue of learning how to read. Because knowing how to read is not to scroll across a bunch of letters with no sense or sentiment, but to taste the flavour of every sentence, it is to stop and enjoy the smell of every quote, conversation and emotion, and to get to know the characters to the point in which you can feel them at every breath.
It was not an easy task to go through these pages, as every chapter felt like a punch in the face with all that tragedy. Although, it was not surprising. The time and place in which the author was born and in which the novel took place are filled with inequalities, diseases and pure fight for subsistence. There was obviously no room for pleasure, but an imperative need to protect themselves from the cold and death. The women and children are often described in unbearable and unacceptable situations (and they still are, because these situations still exist).
These characters with an enormous psychological complexity were placed by Dostoyevsky in those extreme circumstances. The title of the book could lead to misinterpretations, as it infers that someone committed a crime and the novel would describe the punishment, probably dictated by a court of law and then the life in prison. Nothing of the sort.
The punishment of Raskolnikov is clearly more psychological. A law student who had to abandon his career due to poverty, he was crashed in all aspects of his life by the lack of money, but he reassured himself, somehow, with a moral superiority that allowed him to overcome the social and legal boundaries of the times. He killed a moneylender that according to him, had no added value to society. Only after the murdered in which the sister of the usurer also died, Raskolnikov started feeling the weight of his actions, first with strong physical symptoms that left him in the limits of insanity, and then with erratic behaviour that led him to incrimination, losing the little he had left, like his family, his friends and his freedom.
There were other complex personalities around Raskolnikov as well. Some of them with noble features, such as Sonia, an eighteen-year-old prostitute that became his unconditional friend. His mother, and then sister, Dunia, who decided to get engaged to Luzhin, a public functionary of a murky nature, who was willing to do anything to get Sonia as his wife, and then force her to a life of servitude. Luckily Razumijin got into Raskolnikov and Sonia’s life, a former university peer, he believed in Raskolnikov innocence and defended him through every misstep, despite the constant rejections of his friend. It was through Razumijin that Raskolnikov met the judge in charge of the case, who after reading and article that he wrote while studying law about moral superiority and the entitlement to killing whoever was not valuable to society, waited patiently until the same Raskolnikov implicated himself in the crime.
The novel is a clear mirror of Dostoyevsky’s capacity to identify the problems of society and put them on the spot. It is in this regard that he denounced child abuse through Svidrigailov, a paedophile who was in love with Raskolnikov’s sister and to whom he chased through Russia (abusing other girls in the meantime), until he committed suicide, incapable to dominate her.
Dostoyevsky dedicated some thoughts to human behaviour, arguing that ‘Everything is on people’s reach and everything falls in their hands. Only fear makes everything go away’, and ‘Compassion, in our times, is forbidden by science, as it is practiced in England, the land of Political Economy’. In the personal field, Dostoyevsky defended free love, saying that infidelity was a protest to marriage and that in a free marriage infidelity would never exist.
Despite the sufferings described on the novel, the epilogue is benign. Despite of his crime, Raskolnikov faced a softer punishment than deserved. A lot of analysts interpreted that Raskolnikov even finds a happy life as well. In my opinion, this is a conclusion that each reader should judge on its own.
Note: Picture taken from dreamstime.com